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Antarctic voyagers return with scientific treasure

Hon Jim Anderton
Minister of Fisheries
Hon Pete Hodgson
Minister of Research, Science, and Technology


20 March 2008 Media statement


Antarctic voyagers return with scientific treasures

The efforts of the New Zealand scientific voyage which returned to Wellington from Antarctica today after completing the most comprehensive survey of marine life in the Ross Sea region ever undertaken, have been praised by Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton and Research, Science, and Technology Minister Pete Hodgson.

New Zealand’s research vessel Tangaroa was able to complete 35 days of sampling Antarctic marine biodiversity and habitats, as part of an international effort by 23 countries to survey marine ecosystems and habitats in the waters surrounding Antarctica.

The epic voyage, known as NZ IPY-CAML, was part of two global science programmes: International Polar Year and the Census of Antarctic Marine Life.

Jim Anderton said the Government supported these programmes with $6.6 million in new funding, making this voyage NZ’s largest ever Antarctic marine research programme.

The 26 scientists and 18 crew endured the worst ice conditions documented in the Ross Sea in 30 years and worked around the clock in the 24-hour days of the Antarctic summer. They collected samples of many different forms of life from tiny micro-plankton up to large toothfish and recorded some never-seen-before views of the seabed.

More that 30,000 specimens were collected. Fish experts onboard recorded 88 fish species, of which eight are possibly new to science. Many of the fish have special adaptations to deal with the extreme polar and deep-sea environments they live in.

To get a fuller understanding of biodiversity across the ecosystem, they sampled and photographed a wide range of organisms, from viruses and plankton to blue whales.

Samples included giant-sized animals; starfish as big as a serving dish, large sea-spiders, jellyfish with tentacles up to four metres long, and hydroids (relatives of corals) three to four times larger than specimens previously seen in the Ross Sea. Some unusual squid species were caught, including several juvenile colossal squid.

To obtain a view of how different parts of the ecosystem interrelate, scientists took samples from the sea-surface, the water column and the sea-bed. These included shallow-shelf environments (200-400m), continental slopes, seamounts and abyssal depths down to about 3500m.

While processing the samples, scientists had to battle worse than expected weather, with temperatures down to minus 13°C and blizzard conditions that caused equipment to ice up and samples of seawater, mud and fish to freeze on deck.

Latest camera technology allowed scientists to see many communities on the sea-floor for the first time and revealed much new information about the behaviour, interrelationships, and distribution of these sea-floor dwellers and their habitats.

Jim Anderton said the wealth of data gathered during the voyage will help decision-making on environmental issues such as climate change and its effect on Southern Ocean eco-systems.

“The results will also support New Zealand’s commitment to ensuring the sustainable management of the Ross Sea region, including the toothfish fishery.”

On the journey of some 2000 miles to the Ross Sea, the voyage also completed 15 days of sampling plankton and water characteristics of the ocean between Wellington and the southern polar waters. Analysis of samples and other data collected during the 50 day voyage will take place over a period of at least three years.

The voyage has surveyed some areas and habitats for the first time, and so is likely to have uncovered many species that are new to science. Identification, description, and naming of the specimens will rely on the expertise of taxonomists around New Zealand and the world.

Pete Hodgson said Tangaroa was an important tool for building our scientific knowledge, and the scientific team and crew it carries are world-class.

“New Zealand’s participation in this international effort means we are making a significant contribution to global understanding of Antarctic marine habitats.

”New Zealand has developed significant expertise and capability in this kind of research which really is something to be proud of.”

The voyage was a collaboration between Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), Ministry of Fisheries (MFish), the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Antarctica New Zealand, , New Zealand universities, and both the Italian and United States Antarctic Programmes.

Background information

International - International Polar Year (IPY)
A global scientific programme designed to better understand the land and sea environments of the Arctic and Antarctic and the effects of climate changes on them. The IPY programme began in March 2007 and runs until March 2009 to cover two sampling seasons at each pole.

The first International Polar Year began in 1882. Each “year” has proven to be a major marker in scientific knowledge and geophysical exploration, and has greatly fostered international cooperation in science. IPY has also been the source of significant scientific discoveries including proving the theory of continental drift.

The Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML)
One of many international research programmes that falls under the IPY umbrella. It is a multi-national research project involving 23 countries in 11 co-ordinated voyages, to survey marine life and habitats around Antarctica. CAML is one of the broader Census of Marine Life projects (CoML) which aims to determine the diversity of marine species across all oceans and depths by 2010.

Ocean Survey 20/20
An exploration programme designed to survey New Zealand’s total ocean area, its biodiversity and resources. It will provide important information to enable New Zealand to more effectively develop and manage its natural ocean resources in a sustainable way.

Web-links
http://www.fish.govt.nz– Go to Environmental > Habitat Protection and Research > IPY-CAML.
NB: This site provides further background information about the actual science objectives of the project and also has web-links to other associated programmes and agencies – eg CAML, IPY, Ocean Survey 20/20, NIWA, Antarctica NZ, LINZ and the Science Hub.

ends

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